I just got off the phone with someone who called to invite me to my fiftieth year class reunion from Lane Technical High School.  Fifty years!  Amazing!  And, what is even more amazing is that I still have friends from high school with whom I stay in touch and even, on occasion, work together.

Fifty years?  Is it possible?  Yes, it has been that long since I walked across the stage and received my diploma.  From there, as they say, the rest is history.  Notably (education-wise) a year later I started at Northwestern University and, from there went to the University of Illinois for my Masters and PhD.  But, of the three institutions, it is my high school that is nearest and dearest to my heart.  And, I am not alone.  Many of my classmates (and those of other graduating classes) feel the same way – Lane was the cornerstone to their future.

I think I know why.  Albert G. Lane (for whom the school is named) wanted to create a public high school to meet the needs of those kids who might not be college bound, but who were headed for careers in the practical arts – woodworking, foundry, mechanics, electronics – you name it.  Lane Tech is huge – we had six-thousand boys (at that time it was only a boy’s school – something that changed some years later) in one building with two graduating classes per year.  This allowed the creation and support of amazing courses impossible to have in smaller public schools.  For example, we had a foundry where we learned how to cast aluminum and iron.  There I made a set of iron skillets my Mother used until she died.  Our shop teachers were all practitioners of their craft who, after twenty or so years working in industry got their credentials to teach and brought their insights to their students.  I truly learned at the hands of masters.

While shop classes were a good part of what made Lane great, the academic program was rigorous as well.  When it was determined that I would likely go to college after all, I was encouraged to increase my enrollment in academic subjects with a full college-prep load – in addition to the shop classes.  By my Junior year I was in school from early in the morning until late in the afternoon excepting when the Cubs had a home game. (the story about those games follows…)

But my main point is that Lane provided me with an incredibly grounding that served me well when I went to Northwestern University to study engineering.  I, and my other Lane colleagues, were about the only Freshmen engineering students who had actually made something with their hands.  This gave us a tremendous advantage – one I continue to celebrate to this day.

As for the Cubs games — in those days you could get into Wrigley Field for free from the third inning on.  The ball park was just a few mile bus ride down the street from Lane.  So, in print shop, I made a bunch of Chicago CTA transfers, and in machine shop made a pretty good transfer punch.  Armed with these, I was able to ride to the games for free, and from there take another bus home.  This story is one I now share with people regularly ever since one of the former Governors of Illinois told the story (which he heard from one of my classmates) as he introduced me for a speech – a speech for which my father (who did NOT know about this before) was present.

Oh, well.

The real point of the story, to me, is that Lane was a place where I discovered my creative bent.  Later I harnessed this in more productive ways to invent the first touch-screen display and a bunch of other things folks use every day.

Would I have gone on to have such a wonderfully productive life without Lane Tech?  Possibly, but this public school broke the mold of what education could be like.  Traditional schooling was not a good path for me, and I could easily have dropped out if I wasn’t engaged.  Every day at Lane was an adventure.

The fact that I’ve been asked to join some of my classmates to celebrate the fifty years since we graduated has made my day.

As our motto says: “There is no royal road to learning, but there is an open Lane.”